What I Wish All Kids Of Divorced Parents Thought About The Holidays

Little girl decorating a Christmas tree.

For way too many kids of divorced parents the holidays aren’t all that merry. Instead, the holidays are filled with confusion and guilt.

These kids experience confusion because they often have a hard time keeping track of schedules about when they’re going to be with Mom, when they’re going to be with Dad and when they’re going to be with their friends. Then layered on top of this confusion is guilt.

Kids of divorced parents often feel the need to be actors. They don’t want to upset Mom by talking about Dad in front of her and they don’t want to upset Dad by talking about Mom in front of him. So, these kids learn to act like their other parent isn’t as important as the parent they’re with right now. The pressure to continue the charade amps up around the holidays and then the guilt comes. Many of these kids feel guilty that they’re looking forward to being with the other parent and that they have to leave the parent they’re with right now to do that.

I got to see this confusion and guilt first-hand with my bonus sons.

The first time I spent the holidays with the boys, I was uncertain what to expect and a little cautious.

The way things worked out, our first holiday together was New Years. Cameron, our youngest, was only 13 at the time, and he was required transfer flights in traveling from his mom’s home to our new home in the other side of the country. Because none of the adults involved, much less Cameron, was comfortable with him doing this on his own, his older brother, Anthony, came along with Cam to visit us.

The boys were extremely happy to be spending time with their dad. I did my best to make sure we all had a fun time and celebrated the New Year in a way that everyone could participate in. (I bought some fun champagne flutes and chilled a bunch of Dr Pepper. Instead of toasting in the New Year with a glass of champagne, we welcomed it with our Dr Pepper and a burping contest. Talk about unusual and fun!)

At some point during their visit, I innocently asked the boys about their Christmas. It was as if I’d hit a switch. Both of them became very quiet, their faces went blank and they gave me an obligatory “It was fine.” I was genuinely interested in hearing about how wonderful their Christmas was, but they just weren’t comfortable talking about it – especially with their dad within earshot.

I also was confused about Cam’s repeated asking about when he and Anthony were going to leave. Back then, I wasn’t sure if he was asking because he was homesick, because he couldn’t remember, or because of some other reason. Now, after learning all I’ve learned about blended families and enjoying my bonus family, I understand that it was probably a combination of all of the above. I understand that the other reason was just a fact of having two different homes – one with Mom and one (in our case, very far away) with Dad.

Luckily our holidays today aren’t tainted by any of the kids feeling confusion or guilt. Of course they’re all adults now, but we’ve all made an effort over the years to encourage them to enjoy the holidays and look at them as opportunities for double the presents, double the fun and double the love.

THIS is what I wish all kids with divorced parents thought about the holidays – double the presents, double the fun and double the love.

The thing is kids with divorced parents need help to get there. And it’s up to us, their divorced parents along with their bonus parents to help. We need to be OK – really, genuinely OK – with knowing the kids love their other parent and bonus parent and that they have fun with them. It’s only by being OK with this knowledge that any of us are going to be able to provide a safe place for the kids to just be themselves and not worry about having to act a particular way in front of us. By doing this we can go a long way to eliminating the guilt that so many kids with divorced parents experience during the holidays.

Eliminating, or at least minimizing, the confusion the kids have about where they’re going to be and when is something that’s fairly easily solved with calendars that gets used and talked about in both of their homes. That’s one thing that I wish I had known about when Cam was still a kid. I know it would have made a HUGE difference in how he was able to keep track of time while he visited with us because I know the HUGE difference it’s made in the lives of other kids with divorced parents.

So how can you help your kids with divorced parents think about the holidays as being filled with double the presents, double the fun and double the love? Take a peek at Your Functional Divorce Assignment and I’ll give you a few ideas.

Your Divorce And The Holidays Assignment:

Get really comfortable and OK with the facts. Your kids love you. Your kids love their other parent. Your kids might even love their bonus parents. Your acceptance of these facts is the first step for you to be able to support your kids in having healthy relationships with all the adults in their lives.

Encourage your kids in their excitement about spending some time with their other parent – especially over the holidays. Have you ever noticed how much more you enjoy something when you’ve been able to anticipate it? The same thing works for your kids. The more you allow them to anticipate the holiday events with you and their other parent, the more they’ll be able to enjoy all the festivities and the more comfortable they’ll be in just being themselves.

Get a calendar. If you haven’t already, get a calendar that you can use as a family to note when the kids are going to be with you and when they’re going to be with their other parent. It goes a long way toward helping the kids be able to plan what they want to do to.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly adviceIf you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

If you’d like more help with how to deal with your life now, read more articles about Life After Divorce.

21 Tips For Surviving The Holidays

The holiday season is typically a time for celebration with friends and family. Yet, when you’re divorcing, the holiday season can feel anything but merry. To help you enjoy this holiday season instead of dreading it, here are 21 tips you can use today.

1. Be patient

Even in the best of times, the holidays are usually a bit hectic. However, when you’re celebrating the holidays for the first time on your own, they can feel more than hectic. They can feel overwhelming! You’ve got so much going on emotionally with the divorce that the added tasks, events and scheduling of the holidays can all be just a bit too much. Be patient with yourself and your kids as you navigate the holidays. This is new and different for everyone and a little patience will go a long way toward making your first holidays post-separation/divorce enjoyable.

2. Be flexible

The holidays are about celebrating with family and friends and don’t HAVE to occur on only one specific day. I find that people with children who are celebrating the holidays for the first time as a single parent often get tied up in the idea that holidays can only happen on the official day marked on the calendar. For example, it’s not unusual for them to think that Thanksgiving Day can ONLY happen on the fourth Thursday of November. However, with a bit of advanced planning (See hint 16.), you may decide that Thanksgiving will actually happen the Saturday before the fourth Thursday of November so you can celebrate it with your kids. Having Thanksgiving early even has the added benefit of allowing you to avoid the crowd buying their last-minute turkey and fixings on the Saturday before the fourth Thursday of November.

3. Focus on others

Another way to enjoy the holiday season is to focus on those less fortunate than you. Consider volunteering at a soup kitchen or at a center that provides holiday “shopping” for needy families. I can guarantee that when you focus on providing joy for those less fortunate than you, an amazing thing happens; you forget about your troubles and appreciate what you do have even more.

4. It’s not about the stuff!

Gift giving is often a big part of the holiday season and with separation and divorce, the funds available for gift giving are usually less. However, gifts don’t need to be purchased to be appreciated. Sometimes the gift of time and attention means more than any store-bought gift ever could.

5. Let happiness happen

For a lot of people going through divorce, it can seem strange to experience any emotion other than some form of upset. Divorce is an upsetting event that can be almost all consuming. However, if you start to feel happy as a result of the holiday events, ENJOY the feeling! You deserve to be happy.

6. Reach out to family and friends

Almost everyone I know wishes someone could read their mind and offer help when it’s needed. On the other hand, I don’t know anyone who can read minds with any real reliability. The message here is if you need a little extra help to get your holidays merrier, be sure and ask for it. Don’t wait for someone to guess what you need.

7. Make new family traditions

With divorce so many things change. Some of these changes are not so comfortable, but some of these changes are good and might even be fun. What new family tradition can you introduce this holiday season to keep things fun?

8. Nix the guilt

So many divorced parents feel guilty about how the kids’ holidays will be different. The thing is different doesn’t mean bad or wrong. Different is just different. If you nix the guilt and embrace the new way your holidays will be, then your kids will enjoy the holidays too.

9. Work with your ex in a cooperative manner for kids sake

One of the things I always tell my clients is that their divorce is between them and their former spouse. The holidays can be a wonderful experience for the kids provided that’s the shared goal you and your former spouse have for them.

10. Continue your traditions, but simplify them

You may have holiday traditions that are important to you, but they just are not possible now that you’re divorced. What can you do to tweak these traditions so that you can still have them?

For example, maybe you had a holiday tradition of going skiing. If that kind of a trip isn’t possible this year, you may choose to do something else that captures the essence of the traditional ski trip. You may decide to play ski jumping on the Wii, have a marshmallow fight instead of a snowball fight and drink hot chocolate afterwards. Let your creativity flow and I know you’ll be able to create a modified tradition this year that you’ll still enjoy.

11. Don’t spend the holidays alone

It can be tempting to crawl into a cave and hibernate during our first holidays alone – especially if your ex has the kids. However, I urge you to resist the temptation. There’s no reason to punish yourself, for that’s what hiding in a cave during the holidays is. I’m not saying that you don’t need time alone. You absolutely do. I’m just suggesting that instead of spending all of the holiday season alone, make an effort to go out and spend some time with others. I promise that you’ll get a different perspective of your first holidays alone if you open yourself up to even a little fun celebrating the holidays with others.

12. Take care of your health

The funny thing about the holiday season is that it coincides with the cold and flu season. This, along with the stress that usually accompanies divorce, makes you a bit more susceptible to catching a bug. So, take good care of yourself by getting plenty of rest, exercise and good nutrition.

13. Give yourself a gift

This being the first holiday season post separation/divorce, you probably won’t be receiving a gift from your ex. The thing is, you probably won’t be buying them a gift either. Since your gift giving list has decreased by at least one, why not add yourself to your list? Go ahead and buy yourself something that you’ll truly enjoy this holiday season. (You may also want to make sure it’s not something that you’ll regret purchasing in the New Year when the payments for it start.)

14. Count your blessings

It’s easy to get caught up in what’s different this holiday season – in the negative sense. Flip that upside down and count what’s different AND positive this holiday season.

15. Lean on your faith

Whatever your beliefs are, you just might be able to find solace in your faith when you’re not feeling the “Ho Ho Ho!” in the holidays.

16. Plan ahead

The most important thing to have when you want something to happen at a certain time is a plan. Wanting to have happy holidays requires a plan too. Plan ahead to make it more likely you’ll have a happy holiday season.

17. Cultivate gratitude

Developing an attitude of gratitude does wonders for the way you view the world. This was one of the most important skills I developed when I got divorced. It helped me to be more positive and proactive about changing the things that needed to be changed not just at the holidays, but year-round.

What are you thankful for this holiday season?

18. What do you love most about holiday season?

People like the cooler weather, giving and receiving gifts, decorations. Whatever it is that you love most about the holiday season, figure out a way to get more of it. Once you do that, you’ll definitely have happier holidays.

19. What activities put you in a holiday mood?

When I ask clients this question I hear answers like shopping, parties, decorating, watching football, Christmas lights, and caroling. The next question I ask them is “How can you do more of these and get even more enjoyment out of the holiday season?” What are you answers to these two questions?

20. Be realistic

Your life is in the midst of a major change. For most people, separation and divorce brings increased responsibilities along with decreased financial means and free-time. Be sure and factor these facts in this holiday season. If you do, I’ll bet you’ll find it easier to be realistic with the expectations you have of yourself, your family and the holidays this year.

21. One holiday at a time

The holiday season can easily be a blur of activities that pretty much start as soon as the jack-o-lantern is off the front porch on the morning of November 1st. Prevent the blur by focusing on just one holiday at a time. Avoid multi-tasking and the potential for overwhelm by taking the holidays just as they come, one… at… a… time.

Your Functional Divorce Assignment:

Choose one of the tips to implement immediately. Sometimes seeing a long list of tips can cause us to start to gloss over them. I know these tips work, so take a moment now and choose one of them that you can implement right now and then do it!

Choose a tip that addresses your biggest concern about the holidays and put it to use. It’s pretty normal for the tip that can be most helpful to not necessarily be the easiest to implement. If that’s the case for you, take a moment now and select the tip that would address your biggest concern. And, when you’re ready, take a deep breath and figure out how you can implement that tip to help you enjoy your holidays just a bit more.

Come back to the tips frequently throughout the holiday season. Just because you’ve tried a tip out once doesn’t mean that you’re done with it. Keep these tips handy and visit them throughout the holidays anytime you could use a little bit of help. And, of course, if you’d like to schedule a Complimentary Consultation with me to discuss your particular situation, just send me an email or give me a call.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

© 2012 Karen Finn. All rights reserved under all copyright conventions.